George Takei is now just days away from realizing his latest dream. He will, on November 6, make his Broadway debut as the star of the new musical, Allegiance, which is partially inspired by the hardships he and his family – and thousands of other Japanese-Americans -- experienced during World War II. Though he’s never been out of the public eye, thanks to his nearly five-decade association with Star Trek and the character of Sulu, Takei has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance in recent years that’s encompassed The Howard Stern Show and Heroes, not to mention unexpected status as a social media maven and a high-profile role as an advocate for the LGBT community. Right now, though, the focus is on Allegiance. A few weeks back, and just before previews officially kicked off, Takei – who is joined in the show by Tony Award winner Lea Salonga and Telly Leung -- took a break from tech rehearsals at the Longacre Theatre to chat with StarTrek.com. Check out what he had to say in part one of our exclusive interview, and be sure to visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow for part two.
How ready are you for all this? You’ve been talking about Allegiance for years, and now the stars are finally aligning…
I’ve been talking about Allegiance for at least seven or eight years, and acting on Broadway is something I’ve dreamt about my entire life. As you know, I do a lot of talks at universities and corporate meetings and at governmental agencies, and with this, to be able to bring my personal passion for the theater together with my life’s mission, and to see it realized like this is remarkable. We thought we had realized it in San Diego, when we did our production of it there at the Old Globe in 2012. We had a fantastic run there. We had a sold-out house, sold out both in terms of attendance and box office. So we thought transferring to Broadway would be a piece of cake.
It wasn’t, of course. It took a long time just to lock in a theater because so many shows were opening, right?
Exactly that. We had to stand in line. But what we did was we took advantage of that time that we had to tweak the show, polish it, drop a few scenes and numbers and to add a few new scenes and numbers. We work-shopped it. And now Allegiance is even better than what it was when we were in San Diego. So it’s such a thrill for me to see it in this beautiful old Broadway theater, the Longacre, coming so vibrantly to life.
So, introduce StarTrek.com readers to Allegiance. What’s the story it tells?
The show is the story of the Kimura family, but it’s the memory of Sam Kimura (with Leung playing the young Sammy Kimura and Takei portraying the older Sam Kimura; Takei also plays a second character, Ojii-San). They were a tightly bound family, a farm family from Salinas, California. The musical begins with a Japanese festival called the Tanabata Festival, where we write our wishes on a piece of paper and tie them to a tree or a signpost. It’s a spectacular beginning and a very optimistic beginning, despite the distant drumbeats of war. Then, sure enough, there’s that bombing that happens in Hawaii and then the calamity that happens for all the Japanese-Americans on the West Coast. But it’s about this family that’s bound by love. They have at their heart this core value called gaman, which means they endure all hardships with dignity and with fortitude. And they are resilient. They are placed in this Wyoming camp, and there are forces at work on them, and those forces split the family. But, ultimately, that love I described is what brings us back together in the end.
So, Allegiance is a commentary on resilience, on gaman?
Yes, and part of resilience is the strength, the ability to find joy under harsh circumstances. They indeed find joy and love, though it’s a dangerous love. Young Sam falls in love with an Army nurse, a white woman, in an internment camp during the War. So, it’s a forbidden love, and a dangerous one. And the sister, played by Lea Salonga, also finds love, but it’s with a young law student who is yanked out of school and imprisoned. He stands on fundamental principles. After a year of imprisonment, the draft comes down – and people are outraged. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, young Japanese-Americans, like all young Americans, rushed to their recruitment centers to volunteer to fight for this country. This act of patriotism on the part of Japanese-Americans was answered with a slap in the face. They were denied military service and categorized as enemy non-aliens. It was outrageous to call people who are acting on patriotism the enemy. And then to compound that word with non-alien? What is that? It’s the word citizen defined in the negative.
And then they imprisoned us. A year into the imprisonment, they realized there’s a wartime manpower shortage and they came down with the draft. And the young law student says “I will fight for my country as an American, but I will not go as an internee. If I can report to my hometown draft board with my family back home, I will fight for my country, but I will not go as an internee, leaving my family in imprisonment.” It’s a gutsy and principled and very American posture to take. And, for that, he’s tried for draft evasion and thrown into a federal penitentiary. So, Lea’s character takes over the leadership of the resistors and her brother goes off to fight in a segregated all-Japanese unit. And it’s that fracture that symbolizes the fracture within the whole Japanese-American community. But they ultimately come back together.
How much singing do you do?
I make my Broadway debut singing a duet with Lea Salonga. How is that for a way to make a debut? And I sing a fair bit after that as well.
Star Trek fans have never seen you in anything like this before, and those fans will no doubt make up a sizable chunk of the audience for Allegiance. How eager are you to share this experience with them?
Star Trek fans have been the people who’ve made it possible for me to do this. And that’s because, in this business, it takes a little celebrity to make to make projects viable. Star Trek, and the Star Trek fans, that is what had given me my celebrity. I am well aware of that. It’s the Star Trek fans’ absolute, unrelenting support and dedication and love that have kept the franchise alive all this time. I mean, next year we’re going to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. They’ve been incredibly supportive of all of us, and I do hope as many of them as possible can get to the Longacre Theatre to see Allegiance and be a part of this experience with me.